Dr. Ruth, Head Doctor
David Cronenberg's low-budget "Scanners" features one of cinema's most iconic scenes featuring an exploding head and it is a scene which stands up well against modern horror considering this is a movie made over 30 years ago. In fact the movie as a whole stands up reasonably well with Michael Ironside delivering a performance which is at times as chilling as a Jack Nicholson performance. But when I say it stands up well I mean that it is as entertaining now as the first time I watched it and unfortunately when I first watched "Scanners" it didn't blow my mind.
In a cafeteria a young unkempt man over hears a woman speaking about him, it causes him to tremor and the next minute the woman is on the floor having a violent seizure. The man is Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) who unbeknown to him is a Scanner, a mutated breed of humans who have the power to control people's minds and the event in the cafeteria brings him to Dr. Paul Ruth's (Patrick McGoohan - Escape from Alcatraz) attention who is an expert in the study of Scanners. But Ruth wants him because there is another scanner called Darryl Revok (Michael Ironside - Terminator Salvation) a very dangerous Scanner who is in charge of an underground band of Scanners seeking revenge on those who ostracized them.
I suppose I should explain why "Scanners" has never blown my mind because it is a hugely popular movie. My trouble is the simple fact that who do you like because this is a simple story of good versus bad but who is the good guy. There is no real good guy, no hero to get behind, yes there is Cameron Vale who finds himself drawn into this situation unaware of what he is but he isn't the greatest of characters, he fails to have us championing him.
Now some may say that I have missed the point because "Scanners" is a social commentary on the treatment and ostracization of anyone deemed not normal, forced to live in the shadows and put up with people staring at them. I will admit there is a touch of this to "Scanners" but you need to read a hell of a lot into it to make it be solely about the mistreatment of those not deemed normal. And so in truth in the end it is really just a simple thriller about a corrupt organization and the deadly powers of Scanners.
Those deadly powers do pave the way for some of the movies more memorable scenes starting with that early scene which sees the woman fitting on the floor. Of course the iconic scene is the head exploding one which I suggest if you don't know how they did it do a search and learn how it was done, so simple yet so brilliant. But in many ways the most chilling scenes are those featuring Michael Ironside as Darryl Revok and seeing him staring into a camera is a very unsettling experience in a similar way to what Jack Nicholson achieved a few years earlier in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
Unfortunately whilst Ironside makes "Scanners" a great movie and Patrick McGoohan has a sense of ominosity about him not all the performances work. Both Stephen Lack as Cameron Vale and Jennifer O'Neill as Kim Obrist are both stiff and unconvincing. It is a shame because Lack as the main character needed to be more commanding and that is why it is hard to get behind him.
What this all boils down to is that "Scanners" has always been a good movie which despite its limited budget holds up well. But it is a flawed movie with a major issue when it comes to the central character of Vale because it is hard to champion him.